Medical technology and clinical trends change significantly over the years but one relative constant is that we still have direct consultations with patients. The traditional face to face consultation is still considered a standard interaction in current patient contact but over the years, it has been supported and extended by, for example, telephone consultations. We can now also offer online video consultations as well as emails and texts just to name a few communication tools. Irrespective of the mode of interaction, we still have to communicate effectively with our patients. Sometimes we are successful in conveying information, ideas and concepts to our patients and sometimes we are not so successful.
Over the years, I have been aware of this issue and tried to overcome it by printing out suitable and appropriate patient information leaflets from trusted resources. The feedback from patients has generally been positive as they appreciate reading information provided during the consultation at a later time when it suits them. These leaflets tend to be disease or drug orientated and contains general information. So, I am sure that there is always room for improvement.
An interesting angle on this topic was provided in a recent Univadis news article, New eczema action plan template for GPs .This article starts by stating “A team at the University of Bristol has worked with GPs, parents, and children to produce an easy-to-use Written Action Plan (WAP) template for eczema.“ Looking at this area from the parent’s/carer’s or patient’s perspective, there can be a bewildering array of medications available to treat eczema and they have different roles and methods of use. Compounding this issue can be the sometimes conflicting advice that is given out by healthcare professionals.
This action plan is meant to provide simple, effective and understandable advice which can help people manage this condition. As the Univadis news article points out, using these action plans for eczema carry limited evidence but I am sure this is an avenue which should be pursued. The Univadis article carries a link to a journal article for those that want to read further into this topic.
We try and work in partnership with patients and try to be good at conveying complex clinical information to patients. Yet I am sure there is always room for improvement. This article should make us all think how we can improve our communication skills, especially when it comes to direct discussion with patients. We don’t necessarily have to use appropriate written information though I think if used correctly then it can be very helpful. It is important to use simple and plain language and check if the patient (or if appropriate their carer) really understands what the important action points are. Communication skills are a critical part of a patient consultation, irrespective of the medium used.
Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief Univadis